My implications counselling appointment was exactly 2 months from the consultation and I was happy to be carrying on with the process. It really got me thinking about how hard IVF must be for people actually receiving donor eggs, especially in the current climate having to wait to start their family because of Covid - which has just made me feel all the more sure that I want to help and donate.
We had a virtual session to minimise face to face contact in the hospital, and both myself and my partner had to be there. We were sent over some forms prior to the appointment to give a brief overview of the session layout and some to sign at the end if we wanted to proceed with donation.
The first thing that the Counsellor made us aware of was that it’s not a therapy session as such, (which I had been nervous about), but a safe space to discuss the wider implications of egg donation. Implications counselling is more about guidance and support which can be provided to either of us throughout the process whenever it's needed. The counsellor also offered the opportunity for therapeutic counselling at any stage of the donor process. It is obviously confidential, unless there is a safeguarding or welfare of the child issue, but I’m going to talk over some of the brief points. The session isn’t designed to sell you on the idea of donating, but to give you the information you need to make an informed decision.
From the outset my partner and I made it clear that we had chosen not to have our own children in the future. The first question that we were asked and encouraged to explore was about our choice not have children in the future. The counsellor prompted discussion of the possibility that we might change our minds in the future and the possibility of having our own fertility challenges; the implications of being a historical successful egg donor but not being able to have our own biological children. Potentially, this could be a future regret. Not everyone who donates will have the same view on having children as me, but it is important to be honest with the counsellor about that decision. I admit that I did get a bit defensive as she continued to ask, but I understood that a donor's choice to have children or not before/after donation will make a massive difference to the implications of donating, so it has to be discussed.
For example, when a woman donates her eggs, she has no legal right over any child born from them. In this scenario if that woman doesn’t have children of her own, then decides she does want children when she can no longer have them herself. Her donor offspring are not legally her children and she cannot legally access information about her donor offspring.
Egg donation in the UK is governed by the HFEA, which is the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. These are the people who will receive all of my information such as my contact details, medical history, and keep a track of who is born from my donations. At 18, a donor conceived adult can request information from the HFEA such as my medical info and heritage, and if that adult ever wants to contact me, HFEA would share contact information. The HFEA will support in the future with managing expectations from both parties and facilitate potential contact, so it’s useful to know that the support is there whenever you or a donor conceived adult needs it.
The law around anonymity surrounding gamete donation changed in 2005, the donor anonymity is wavered when the donor conceived child reaches 18+ but it’s for the donor conceived adult to seek out their donor - not the donor seeking out their offspring. The counsellor reminded me I may never receive contact from my offspring.
The counsellor informed me that there is additional support for donor conceived adults born before 2005; called the ‘Donor Conceived Register’ this is to support donor conceived adults seeking genetic links and information before the HFEA national register. The counsellor said there was limited information and research into the implications of donor conceived, because of this, a lot of the learning is based upon the adoption model where there are emotional and psychological similarities between donor conceived people and those who are adopted
Since the HFEA law changed in 2005 surrounding donors anonymity, there is limited research into the implications of the law change; as none of the donor conceived children have yet reached the age of 18.
One of the points that my partner was most interested by, was that a donor conceived adult could be more likely to seek contact later on in their life or when a significant life event occurs - such as a death in their family or the birth of their own child. However, some donors conceived can be curious about their donor origins very young and can legally access information from the age of 18.
As a donor, you can find out through the clinic where you donated, if a boy or a girl is born from your donation, as well as the year but no specific dates or names. You have to be able to accept that information, and move on, knowing that there is a potential you will never be in contact with the child or their family.
We then discussed the down sides to donation, as these are so rarely talked about. Along with the risk that the treatment won’t work, and the chance of getting Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome and other medical risks, there is also the chance of it affecting you emotionally and mentally during and long after the process.
The Counsellor was very gentle with asking if I thought my mental health would be resilient to withstand the process, which I appreciated, and let me know that I have been approved to do it despite being on medication; which I disclosed upon my donor application. She told us that whenever we needed it, there would be support available to us by the clinic both during and after the donation, and if I ever feel any regrets or worries in the future. I can withdraw consent at any time, even for stored embryos (fertilised eggs) up to the point of them being implanted.
My favourite point from the session, and I don’t know why this made me smile, is that donor families can request information about whether another family has been created using the same donor’s eggs - nothing identifiable, just a nice thing to be aware of I think.
From the end of that session, all that is left to do now is to fill in and sign all the paperwork, and write my goodwill message and personal description. These are short messages that donor families can read before agreeing to take your eggs, and for the donor conceived offspring to read from the age of 18 if they want to. Once again it has no identifiable information, it’s just a way to capture the essence of the donor, and families have said that it is invaluable when explaining to the children how they came into the world.
I’m really looking forward to carrying on with my donation, it is nice to be carrying on despite the current pandemic. Because I am being quite public with my experience, my eggs are going to be frozen for a period of time to preserve my anonymity, but my experience with the actual donation will still be the same. I look forward to sharing more with you as I progress, Thank you for reading.